The Ministry of Justice have announced that in December there were 2,400 Covid-positive cases recorded, which is a rise of nearly 70% in a month, and that coronavirus was assessed to be a factor in deaths of 24 prisoners.
Since the start of the pandemic 4,800 prisoners have contracted COVID-19 and at least 71 inmates have died.
The shadow justice secretary has warned that the new coronavirus strain and rapidly rising number of infections in prisons across England and Wales is “a public health emergency unfolding before our eyes”. The Labour MP David Lammy has said that it is vital that ministers act urgently or else risk preventable deaths in prisons.
A Prison Service spokesperson has said: “Our condolences are with all those who have lost loved ones. Our carefully implemented measures, including shielding and mass testing, have meant that the number of Covid-related deaths is significantly lower than predicted at the start of the pandemic”.
As the first cases of coronavirus began to spread, prisoners were placed under a highly restrictive regime, which was slowly but not completely unwound across the summer and autumn. Some prisoners were kept in their cells for 23 hours a day and concerns began about the impact on mental health with months spent in solitary confinement.
The cross-party human rights committee is looking at the impact of reduced visitations as a result of the pandemic on the right to family life, with a focus on people in institutional settings, including prisons.
There are now calls for putting prisoners and prison staff high on the list for vaccinations. Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, said: “They have been locked down now in prisons since March. If we want to manage the risk effectively, if we want to make our prisons rehabilitate, to places again, and we want to get regimes up and running, so that when people come into our prisons, that we’re able to make them better people, the way to do that would be to vaccinate.”
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